Ratzinger, who has headed the Congregation for 21 years, said that he could "not wait to write books again. I'm getting there but getting there is not enough." He said in a pastoral letter that he felt unable to continue his work as a cardinal due to his age and fatigue. And after 12 years as archbishop, he said he also wanted to make way for "new faces."
But a decision on whether such a high-ranking figure as Ratzinger will step down must ultimately be made by Pope John Paul II. The aim of the Congregation headed by Ratzinger is "to promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world". The authoritative newspaper Corriere della Sera said Monday that the pontiff was not keen on losing the valued services of the German cardinal, even though Ratzinger said that his life had become "very hard". Up to the age of 80, Ratzinger will be part of the group of so-called princes of the church who elect the next pope.
Another influential church figure, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, archbishop of Milan, announced Saturday that he was planning to retire to Jerusalem next year to devote himself to prayer and study.